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Biz Groups Scramble to Undo Mitt's Vetoes (Boston Business Journal)

June 30, 2006
by Sheri Qualters
Journal staff 

Business leaders are looking to salvage various projects following Gov. Mitt Romney's 39 vetoes of sections of the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this month. Among those items top on the list: worker training money, international trade stimulus and tax incentives and funding for manufacturing companies. 

The legislature has until July 31, when this year's legislative session ends, to restore the cuts, and business groups are already racing to Beacon Hill to lobby for their pet causes. As the House of Representatives legislature begins debating veto overrides, two key architects of the economic stimulus bill -- Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, and Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport -- are vowing to reclaim some of the business-friendly funding. 

Citing concerns about dipping into the state's rainy day fund, the Romney administration rejected $24.1 million in spending and a $50 million transfer from the general fund for economic stimulus programs, while approving $385.4 million of the economic stimulus package. In his veto message, Romney said the legislature had included in the bill "funding for several programs not recommended, which will provide very little stimulus and will not create a significant number of jobs." 

But Bosley, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development, said, "I was surprised and a little disappointed by our 'jobs governor.' " 

Restoring $11 million in new work force training money begged for by business leaders during the legislature's job growth listening tour last year tops both Bosley's and Rodrigues' agendas. Manufacturing consultant Jack Healy said about $557,000 in funding for his Worcester-based Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which aids small manufacturers, and language allowing cities and towns to grant tax incentives to companies sinking cash into worker training are critical. 

Romney also axed money to boost international trade and investment, including a proposed doubling of the Massachusetts International Trade Council budget to about $1.9 million and the earmarking of $90,000 to promote the Bay State to foreign investors. 

John Regan, vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said that while his group is usually more concerned about broad public policy issues than line items in a single bill, the international trade and investment arena "might be the exception to the rule." 

"We do firmly believe that getting into the trade game is critical for Massachusetts employers, and anything that can be done to try to stimulate that activity we would support," Regan said. "The benefit is a public one that could justify spending the money." 

Early-stage companies may want to apply for Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation funding sooner rather than later, since Romney axed a $2.5 million addition to the fund's coffers. 

"It could put a crimp on new investments in 2007 and 2008," said the organization's president, Bob Crowley. 

Another veto struck down a carefully-worded $3 million grant fund program for microdisplay manufacturers in southeastern Massachusetts with at least 100 employees. Several defense and technology insiders pinpointed the Taunton-headquartered Kopin Corp. (Nasdaq: KOPN) as the sole beneficiary of the government largesse, but the company deflected inquiries. 

"We don't believe it is appropriate to comment on the governor's actions and what the House and Senate may or may not do," said Kopin spokesman Richard Sneider in an e-mailed statement. 

According to a technology industry insider who asked not to be identified, the state of Virginia is wooing Kopin, but Virginia officials said they don't discuss any negotiations with companies. 

Taunton Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Democrat who penned the language in question, confirmed that Kopin would be eligible and acknowledged that he's not aware of other eligible companies "off the top of my head." 

"This creates jobs in southeastern Massachusetts and in Massachusetts, as opposed to going to other states and other parts of the country," Pacheco said. "We're better off to keep them here." 

Romney's approval of $300 million-plus in economic stimulus programs and appropriations included in the bill earned the administration some kudos, including praise for approving another $10 million for the matching fund that helps state organizations and schools compete for research centers. 

In April, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst collected $16 million from the National Science Foundation's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center program to establish a Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing. 

"If we win, we see leveraged return of 8-to-1 or more" for matching fund money, said Chris Anderson, president of the Waltham-based Massachusetts High Technology Council Inc.

Sheri Qualters can be reached at squalters@bizjournals.com.